I was asked the other day which silent films are worth watching and which is the best film to ease you into the genre. I really wanted to reply that YOU MUST WATCH ALL OF THEM, SILLY BOY! But I held myself back. I actually had to think about which ones are easy to follow and understand especially for those who are so attuned to watching actors mouths move and hearing words come out. Here me and Cat have, with much difficulty, put together a list of what we believe to be fantastic and easy silent films. *drum roll please*
I will admit I love silent films and some of my favourites are about 3 hours long. This means that those who aren’t used to silent films fall asleep. (Yes Liam looking at you.) Here I’ve tried to find a mix of genres.
This was released in 1927. It’s a sci-fi film by German Director Fritz Lang. When you watch it some parts still look a tad bit futuristic even today. It’s also the first ever feature film of the Science Fiction Genre. The film itself is set in 2026 where the rich elite rule the world while the lower classes work beneath the ground to keep all the machinery working. The acting by Alfred Abel, Brigitte Helm, Gustav Frolich and Rudolf Klein- Rogge is quite superb. While watching take into account that they have no direction from Sci-fi actors before them, they are the originals. The film has robots and industrial themes as well as uprisings, killing and major inequality.
You can watch the film in it’s entirety here: (The original film is in German. This copy is English)
Before I tell you about Wings there’s something you should know. This film has links to the 2011 silent film The Artist… Wings was the only EVER silent film to win an Oscar (and at the first ever Oscar’s) until The Artist in 2011. Wings was released in 1927. If that doesn’t make you want to watch the film then the fact that it stars a very talented Clara Bow should make your mind up for you. Bow would retire from all films only 6 years later and this film is seen has one of her best.
Wings is a War film with a love triangle that stars Clara Bow, Charlie Rogers, Richard Arlen and Gary Cooper (Yes that Gary Cooper.) Rogers and Arlen’s characters both love Bow’s and it all happens from there. Both guys join the war and Mary (Bow) volunteers has an ambulance driver, they eventually meet up in Paris and a lot happens… I don’t want to give too much away. It’s a great, light silent film that is easy to follow and the acting and storyline will make you smile, just like most of Bow’s films.
We’ve talked about this film loads. It’s Cat’s favourite silent film (Maybe the only one she’s ever watched) We both love it because it’s a completely different take on the classic Dracula *evil laugh* In fact it’s much better in that Count Orlok is creepy, it’s a silent film and it’s German. The story is simple Max Schrek’s Count Orlok wants to move house. He particularly wants to move close to, across from even, Thomas Hutter and his beautiful wife Ellen (Gustav von Wangenheim & Greta Schroder.) He moves there and creepiness ensues. In a way he is pretty cute, and it’s said that Schrek didn’t need much make up.
It’s a must watch if you like horror, Dracula and those beautifully directed German films by F.W. Murnau.
The Gold Rush
This is probably one of Charlie Chaplin’s most famous film. Please don’t tell me you don’t know who Chaplin is. The Gold Rush is a comedy Chaplin wrote, produced, directed and starred in has his well know character The Tramp. In this film The Tramp goes off to the Yukon in search of the gold rush and finds himself stranded with some interesting characters during bad weather. Afterwards he has a change of heart and gets a job in town and falls in love. The rest is a bundle of slapstick comedy done in such a great way without words it’ll stay with you forever. Maybe the best comedies are those that give us laughs with expressions and acting rather than words.
If you do like comedy try silent films with Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and early Laurel and Hardy. They all have amazing comedy elements and will suit anyones tastes.
Greta Garbo is most famous for being a silent actress. Okay maybe she’s most well known for her I Want To Be Alone line in the sexy voice. But anyways Flesh & The Devil is a great silent film along with most of her others.
The Gish Sisters (Lillian and Dorothy) were also big players in silent films with Lillian referred to as The First lady of American Cinema. A favourite of mine which both of them star in is 1921’s Orphans of the Storm. It’s a must watch for any silent film fans who have a love for a great storyline and fantastic acting.
There are obviously hundred’s more silent films available. Some range from a few minutes long while others can last more than 4 hours. Look out for the different genres and don’t be afraid to look at other actors and actresses. Louise Brooks, Myrna Loy and Gloria Swanson will be recognisable to most people as will men like Douglas Fairbanks and Mickey Rooney.
Which ever you choose enjoy the legacy silent films have left for us and remember silent actors worked twice as hard as the actors of today! Please do give your recommendations too!